How do I stop my puppy nipping me?

It’s very normal for a puppy to nip and hands and feet and to pull clothes. But it is definitely one of those things that needs to be “nipped in the bud” (pun intended). Here are my suggestions.

·       Try not to get angry with your puppy – no matter how much it hurts!

·       Avoid playing with puppy when he or she is super-excited

·       Reward calm and pleasant interactions

·       When puppy starts nipping, put some distance between you for a couple of minutes

·       Be consistent – it takes several repetitions for pup to make the association between action and reaction

·       Ask everyone pup meets to apply the same anti-nipping techniques as you

·       Make sure your pup has enough sleep and the right amount of mental stimulation

·       Provide suitable chew toys to help with teething.

Nipping and chewing is normal behaviour for puppies

What’s the first thing a human baby does when you place your finger in his hand? That’s right, he puts it in his mouth and gums (or bites) it. Baby dogs are just the same. They explore the world with their mouths. And as they don’t have hands, they don’t really have any other choice.

From around 3-4 months old, your pup will also start teething – losing those sharp little baby teeth and growing his or her adult gnashers. Chewing and gnawing helps sooth the discomfort.

Your job as a puppy parent is to teach your prodigy that not everything is suitable for mouthing and chewing (think furniture, shoes, garden plants). And that when you chow down on something that is alive, you will fast become pretty unpopular. 

labrador-puppy.jpg

Keep Calm and Carry on Training

What’s the first thing you do when you hurt yourself? Yup, you very annoyed at the offending object and then shout, swear, hop up and down, and generally get annoyed. It’s a natural reaction. However, we know that puppies grow into calm and confident adult dogs if they totally trust their owners to keep them safe and free from fear. So what message does shouting (or even worse, smacking) them give?

No matter how much your hand/foot/ankle/wrist is throbbing, bite your lip, take a deep breath and walk away. It’s crucial that you stay calm.

And the same applies to everyone your puppy meets. Especially younger children who do tend to play rough and tumble and get the pups over excited.

Recognise the signs of arousal

Have you ever been at a family wedding where the children are running around like mad things and the grandma says “it will all end in tears”? Me too. And Grandma is right. When young things get overexcited or as we dog trainers call it “aroused”, they can’t control their “over the top” behaviour.

Just to clarify the term “Arousal”. Arousal is when a dog gets so overwhelmed with feelings that it can’t think straight. It may be excited, frightened or angry. Fellow dog trainer Trish King has a brilliant description "Think of arousal as a red cloud of energy that interferes with judgment and causes poor behaviour."

One of the consequences of your puppy being aroused is that he or she may well nip.

Get to know your pup, spot the signs of silliness and either try to divert their attention to something calmer before they become over-aroused or remove them from the situation. Eg, if puppy is getting too rough with the children, take him or her for a wander around the garden (without the children!) to calm down for a while. Or if you are getting nipped, just leave the room for a couple of minutes.

Rewarding good behaviour

Your puppy will soon learn that playing dirty will stop the game. But it’s equally as important that they also know which behaviours will keep the fun coming.

The “right” behaviour should always be rewarded. Eg, if pup is relaxed, reward it with hand feeding treats or gentle play with a toy. NB don’t forget that pups need plenty of sleep. Snooze time shouldn’t be disturbed – an over-tired pup will become aroused very quickly.

It goes without saying that everyone your pup meets must employ the same techniques. Nipping = human stops the game. Keeping your teeth to yourself = the good times will roll.

Keeping that little mind busy

Your puppy is like a little sponge, ready and willing to soak up information about the world around them and learning something about every new experience.

In my experience, a pup who is learning lots is more settled and quicker to get the hang of not nipping people. Conversely, bored puppies will make their own entertainment.

Puppy training classes and lots of socialisation are a must at this age. Taking some lessons with a qualified dog trainer will guide you through the life lessons your pup needs to know and help you avoid making the kind of mistakes that could impact on your dog’s behaviour in adullthood.

More about puppy training options here.

Encouraging natural behaviours

Dogs and puppies NEED to chew. For pups it’s an important part of learning about their world and it helps with teething. And in all dogs chewing releases endorphins, the feel good chemicals that help them to keep calm. 

Dogs don’t have the same view of “things” as humans. They have no concept of financial value or emotional attachment. They just know if something could be useful to them. So whilst the intricately carved leg of the Edwardian dining table that has been passed down through your family might be priceless to you – to your dog it’s just a perfectly sized and conveniently placed chew stick.

From day one, make sure that pup doesn’t have unsupervised access to any of your precious things. (This is why crate training is so good). As soon as you hear the suspicious rasp of teeth on furniture/shoes/books, bring something more suitable into the equation – preferably something that puppy will value more eg a stuffed Kong or a frozen carrot. Then entice puppy right out of the way of temptation before settling him or her with a “proper” chew toy.

Over time – and it does take time – especially while those pesky teeth are growing – puppy will learn what’s OK to chew on and what’s not. But be prepared to manage the situation until they do learn.

Worried about puppy mouthing?

Ask Adam Delderfield of Delders Dogs for advice

About puppy training classes in Bedfordshire

Activities to help your dog calm down and concentrate

Stuart Reed